June 9 (1977, 1979, 1987, 2002, 2004)
Sugar Pine Point

6/9/77 morning. the sky is overcast and it is cool out for a change. a very few drops of rain. took a walk this morning up to the top of the ridge and followed the property lines around to the corner of the prow of the ridge, then back along the crest road and down the ridge road again. an interesting flat on the northwest side of the ridge that i'd never seen before. off our property. a tree-house platform in the crotch of an enormous black oak there. a hard to reach spot ~ who hammered that tiny platform together so long ago?

the day is dark and windy. so am i. but it brightens.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

6/9/79 [...]

hot weather. did a rototilling job yesterday for frank olrich. sunburn and dust. [...]

awoke before dawn to see the moon peeking through trees, a benign wanderer. birds ~ especially the black-headed grosbeaks ~ singing loudly. on my first visit to lé outhouse I saw a bat winging about. giant gap illuminated in the first glow from the east. and I am excited by the projects ahead of me.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

6/9/87 [...]
Received a letter from Ed Stadum today, witnessing receipt of mine, sent a couple of weeks ago, and containing comments and criticisms... really hitting the mark, Ed did, because as it turns out I was seriously mistaken about the provenance of the Corral Springs [timber sale] and there was no intent to defraud. (I had thought the Corral Springs to have been a reconstituted "Humbug" sale, but it was entirely separate and the decision signed in 1983.)


Later; returned to Dutch Flat to confirm arrangements for my meeting with the Forest Service, now rescheduled for the 19th; spoke with Rich Johnson, Foresthill District Ranger.”

[Russell Towle's journal]

Date: Sun, 9 Jun 2002 06:21:52 -0800
To: North_Fork_Trails
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Spelling

Hi all,

I can't believe I wrote "disgression the better part of valor," since I know perfectly well that the word is discretion, not disgression. [This is in reference to his posting of June 8, 2002, second-to-last paragraph.] I was making supper last night, thinking about rocks which fizz and rocks which don't, and suddenly it hit me. There is no word, "disgression," tho perhaps I should not be so quick to declare so: I don't have an unabridged dictionary, and all the components of the word are such that it actually could exist.

Ah, well, English. Who can ever say how a word is spelled, upon hearing it pronounced? A delightful German man, master of several languages, a professor and aesthete, once asked me, "How do you pronounce 'ghoti,' in English?" And I guessed something like, "goatee." He explained that no, it is pronounced "fish": the "gh" as in "enough," the "o" as in "women", the "ti" as in "nation."

It so happens that I make a ton of errors while typing, especially on this keyboard, but I can't pass off "disgression" as a typing slip. Purely mental. My mind is increasingly a thing of the past.

I should have mentioned that the big, ten-foot granite boulder I saw in the Bear yesterday could only have come from miles away, probably from the South Yuba basin, in the Lake Spaulding/Fordyce Creek area. The Bear is one of many streams which received ice overflowing from the South Yuba basin.

I need some muriatic acid.


Russell Towle

Date: Sun, 9 Jun 2002 08:23:15 -0800
To: North_Fork_Trails
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Disgression

Hi all,

I find on the Internet that many many people misspell “discretion” as “disgression,” further, that it is at least a legitimate word in the French language, where it would appear to correspond to our English “digression,” as in, for example,

“... par une petite disgression historique.”

It has, also, been suggested that my “disgression” may in fact be a Bushism.


Russell Towle

Date: Sun, 9 Jun 2002 21:59:51 -0800
To: North_Fork_Trails
From: Russell Towle
Subject: Sugar Pine Point

Hi all,

Today my stepson Gus, son Greg & I drove up I-80 to Yuba Gap, and followed TNF Road 19 and then Road 38 past Lake Valley Reservoir and Huysink Lake, parking when we were finally blocked by a tiny snowdrift, and walking the rest of the way to the ancient forest at Sugar Pine Point, and to the Little Slate Ridge which forms a storm-blasted bulwark between that forest and the monstrous canyon of the North Fork American, here over 3000 feet deep.

I had been waiting to get in to the ancient forest for a while, waiting until the snow melted enough. What really galled me into action was that, at long last, I obtained David Harwood's (USGS) geologic map of the Duncan Peak (and portions of the Cisco Grove) quadrangles. This 1993 map is the fruition of years of field mapping in and around the canyon of the North Fork and its tributaries, in the vicinity of Sugar Pine Point. It documents the positions of the many different rock formations in the area, and their attendant faults, etc., and is accompanied by 12 pages of text.

The serpentine of the Melones Fault Zone, also called the Feather River Peridotite, is one of the most salient bedrock structures in the Sierra, a long linear slice of ultramafic rock paralleling the Sierra crest, and occupying the middle elevations. It has been called one of the two most important tectonic features in all California, the other being the San Andreas fault. This serpentine is not on Harwood's map. I only mention it because it marks the boundary, so far as the metamorphic rocks of the Sierra are concerned, between the more oceanic sequences west of the Melones, and more continentally-derived rocks—like the Shoo Fly Complex—east of the Melones.

Now, the Shoo Fly Complex commonly extends over large areas east of the Melones, and in the more northern Sierra, there is a definite sequence of younger rock formations lying to the east, in turn, of the Shoo Fly. These include the Taylorsville Sequence, the Sailor Canyon Formation, and the Tuttle Lake Formation. All these come into play near Sugar Pine Point. Long and narrow bands of different types of metamorphic rocks are sandwiched together, some only a few hundred feet across; they bend and meander and are cut and displaced by faults here and there. With Harwood's map I was finally in a position to recognize these distinct formations on the ground, and give a name to them.

Torrey's Monkeyflower
(Mimulus torreyi)
We stopped at Huysink Lake, named for hunter-angler Bernard Huysink of 19th-century Dutch Flat, and searched for ammonite fossils in exposures of the Sailor Canyon Formation west of the lake, but, without success. Continuing, we drove down the divide between Big Valley on the west and Little Granite Creek on the east, a ridge forested with Red Fir and Lodgepole Pine, with much in the way of glacial moraines and granitoid erratics scattered about. We passed Pelham Flat, a lovely pond and meadow, really, a silted-in, moraine-dammed glacial lake.

I should mention that poorly-managed, almost unrestrained logging deeply scarred this area in the 1980s, obliterating the historic Sugar Pine Point Trail, as well as the Big Valley Trail. The old railroad lands were sold to lumber companies, and, the rest is history. I myself deeply mourn the passing of this part of Placer County's wilderness, which survived intact until so very recently.

Wooly Violet
(Viola tomentosa)
A mile or so past Pelham Flat we were stopped by snow. We hiked near half a mile to where, if one knows exactly where to look, a vestige of the Sugar Pine Point Trail may be followed, perhaps another half-mile, into the ancient forest. Here truly gigantic Ponderosa Pines, Sugar Pines, White Fir and Incense Cedar may be found. There is a bear wallow, and a bear den. There are unusual wildflowers, like the Tomentose Violet, and Rattlesnake Orchids. An Indian site which likely dates to between 1500 and 4500 years ago is there, too. Deep soils, formed on glacial till, support this amazing forest. Pines five and six feet in diameter are all over the place.

As we entered the ancient forest, we saw the deep footprints of a bear on the trail. Bears, when they use a trail again and again, will step in the same exact spots over and over, and leave deep hollows, in shape something between a pie plate and a cereal bowl. A series of such hollows led down the trail. Near the first spring, a huge, five-foot White Fir had fallen, blocking the trail. We skirted around it and went on to the bear wallow spring. Often when I get there, the wallow is muddy, and has just been used. Today it was clear.

We turned east and visited the Indian site, then on to cliffs facing out across Little Granite Creek to Snow Mountain. Here meta-conglomerate of Late Triassic age is exposed. In places it was polished to a sheen by glaciers coming down Little Granite Creek.

We held fairly close to the cliffs bounding the ancient forest on the east, as we wandered south toward the Little Slate Ridge. Gaining this ridge, we found the Upper Member of the Sierra Buttes Formation exposed at its eastern end. This, then, was the name of that marvelous white-blotched dark slate I had admired so often over the years. Following the ridge west, we soon crossed into the Lower Member of the Sierra Buttes Fm., and even sooner there after into a thrust-fault-bounded chunk of the Shoo Fly Complex. Harwood has divided the Shoo Fly into a number of distinct formations, but I won't bore you with the details.

Dwarf or Common Juniper
(Juniperis communis)
The ridge rose slowly to a storm-scalded summit with dwarfed Jeffrey Pines and even some out-of-place-looking stunted Douglas Fir. Notably, all over the rocky summit were patches of Juniperis communis, a dwarfed shrub species of juniper of circumpolar distribution. The sun felt very good on this day of biting north winds. The canyon was too well-lit to reveal itself to best advantage; except, Big Valley Bluff, a 3500-foot cliff to the west, was rather dramatic.

So, it was very nice to visit Sugar Pine Point with this excellent geological map in hand. We visited the bear den on the way out, in the base of a huge Sugar Pine, and there were three bear trails converging upon it, each with their laughable foot-holes.

I broke my Fiskars loppers on this hike. The old trail in to the ancient forest still needs a lot of work. As we drove out, we saw a fine strong bear, a bit lanky and leggy but with a glossy, deep reddish-brown coat, on the road ahead. At first he didn't notice us. Just as I got my camera in hand, he suddenly realized we were near, and loped rapidly away into the woods.

On a darker note, out at Yuba Gap, on PG&E lands, I think, is some of the nastiest logging I have ever seen, involving hundreds of acres of land which was burned in last summer's "Gap" fire. It is the ultimate clear-cut from Hell, distilled and bludgeoned by the tracks of a hundred bulldozers into something belonging more to some incinerated Moon, one would think, than to God's own green earth.

View westward from Sugar Pine Pt. to Big Valley Bluff

Green Valley, etc.
[North Fork Trails blogpost, June 9, 2004:
http://northforktrails.blogspot.com/2004/06/green-valley-etc.html ]
I have been busy with mathematics and home improvement for weeks now, with little time for hiking. I did manage to join Ron Gould and Catherine O'Riley for explorations in Green Valley, two weeks ago, and find myself embarrassed to report that my understanding of the ditches and mines in that remarkable area was seriously flawed.

Green Valley is on the main North Fork, about a mile down from Euchre Bar, and a mile up from Giant Gap. The canyon runs about 2400 feet deep here, but is mostly notable for its unusual width. This width can be ascribed to the weak serpentine of the Melones Fault Zone, in a linear mass trending north and south, athwart the canyon. And this width has allowed great masses of young Pleistocene (Ice Age) sediments to accumulate on both sides of the river. The sediments contain gold; and there is many a mine in Green Valley.

To work these mines, sometimes set well away from the river, water was needed, and ditches were dug. There are many mines and many ditches. At the east end of Green Valley, a ledge was blasted from steep cliffs to support a wooden flume, over a part of the course of the Green Valley Blue Gravel Mine ditch. This ditch took its water from the North Fork itself, well upstream from Euchre Bar. It crossed the river between Euchre Bar and Green Valley, in the lovely gorge there, on a trestle stated, in 1876, to be 139 feet high.

So far so good. But I took it into my mind many years ago that one certain ditch, often horribly overgrown with ancient brush, and which traverses Green Valley from the east to the west, was this same GVBGM ditch. And, since this ditch did lead to the westernmost part of Green Valley, near the Pyramid, where a large hydraulic mine flanks the river, I assumed that this was the GVBGM.

I even stubbornly misread the old newspaper articles to force them to agree with this fixed idea. But as Ron and Catherine and I forced our way east on what I had always thought to be this GVBGM ditch, and passed the center of Green Valley, into the eastern region, we kept on expecting to find traces of Ron's earlier path, from last year, when he blazed a trail along the GVBGM ditch from the east, going west.

I was in the lead, and found some cut branches. "Here it is!" I exclaimed. "Here's the spot you reached last year!"

Ron arrived, and said he didn't recall ever seeing this part of the ditch. Yet someone had worked hard on clearing the brush. In a few yards we had the answer, as a vast area of garbage came into view, the remains of a marijuana growers' camp. It may have been in use last summer. A couple hundred yards farther along this same high ditch, another, similar camp befouled the landscape.

I would guess that something like many dozens of backpack loads would be required to remove the garbage from these two sites. These are new to me; there are several other garbage sites in Green Valley, closer to the river, which I had hoped to clean up this year if possible. Now the task seems insurmountable.

Ron astutely realized we were far to high above the river to be on the line of the ditch-cut-into-the-cliffs-at-the-east-end, which is certainly the GVBGM ditch. Hence the true GVBGM ditch must be below us. We followed a faint trail down through meadowy areas hemmed around by brush, where a fascinating accumulation of large boulders of rhyolite volcanic ash is found. These boulders are no part of the Pleistocene glacial outwash sediments in Green Valley, but suggest something like a landslide deposit, originating up on the canyon rim, where the "Valley Springs" rhyolite ash beds have their proper place. The landslide might have happened a hundred thousand years ago; the boulders are deeply weathered to a brownish color, rather than the raw creamy white one sees in roadcuts, etc. (for instance, see the railroad cuts a few hundred yards east of Alta, for an excellent exposure of this Valley Springs rhyolite ash).

So. We dropped down through the meadows and found the true GVBGM ditch, fully 150 feet in elevation below the higher ditch. I should have realized the high ditch was way too high. At any rate, we followed the GVBGM ditch west, and found that it ended near the center of Green Valley, in a tiny reservoir, from which its water was disbursed to the mine itself, down below us and out of sight.

Thus, in accord with the old newspaper articles which I had so strenuously misread for so long, the GVBGM is in the center of Green Valley, not at the west end.

We then explored some old trails in the area, including one I call the High East Trail, which was always hard to follow, even back in 1976, and now is badly covered in brush, towards the east end of Green Valley. We scouted around without success for its continuation east, then turned west, where it is relatively open, and followed it back to its junction with the main East Trail, near Joe Steiner's grave.

Then it was a long slog up the long trail. Another fine fine day in the North Fork canyon, one in which, strangely, we never reached to river itself, but wandered through vast areas of brush, rife with old trails and old ditches and new marijuana growers' camps.

I wish they'd just legalize the stuff. We'd have no more of these obscene garbage dumps.

On another front, I hear that quite a crowd of dirt bikers rode the Euchre Bar Trail last weekend, and tore it up a bit. It might be that Tahoe National Forest needs better signs indicating the OHV closure on that trail.

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